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December 06. 2013 7:51PM

Casino for NH wins critical endorsement

CONCORD — The state's Gambling Regulatory Oversight Authority on Friday endorsed proposed legislation allowing one casino under a clearly defined regulatory scheme.

Attorney General Joseph Foster was the lone "No" vote on the nine-member commission, saying the authority's work greatly improved the regulatory structure over last session's casino bill, but the proposed bill amounted to endorsing casino gambling, something he could not do.

"We're going from the little league to the big leagues in terms of the dollar costs of problem gamblers," said Foster. "I remain concerned . . . about the social cost of bringing casino gambling into the state."

He said his agency would oppose the bill next session.

Gov Maggie Hassan, who backed Senate Bill 152, which established a casino in southern New Hampshire, said she continues to believe the state needs to have its own casino to create jobs, boost the state's economy and generate revenue for critical priorities.

"I encourage all legislators, especially those who previously expressed concerns about regulatory oversight, to fully consider the Authority's carefully developed recommendations as they move through the legislative process," Hassan said.

Authority chairman Rep. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, said he wouldn't call the draft bill a casino gambling bill. "It's what the Legislature has to choose to do," he said. "If we go down this road, (the bill says) we need to make these choices."

Ames did say that, if the bill passes as drafted, the commission could approve a casino in the state.

The bill directs the governor to appoint a five-member gaming commission as soon as possible. Once the commission is in place, it has the authority to approve a casino.

"No matter how thorough the work of the authority has been, it does not make a bad idea any less bad," said former Sen. Harold Janeway and former NHGOP chair Steve Duprey, spokesmen for two anti-gambling organizations. "Casino gambling will destroy a state brand that has taken decades of hard work to create, and that will be disastrous."

Under the bill, the new gaming commission would regulate all forms of gaming in the state including the lottery, charitable gambling, and horse and dog racing.

The proposed legislation would allow one resort casino with up to 5,000 video slot machines and 150 table games. The license fee would be $80 million.

A similar proposal without the elaborate regulatory structure was passed by the Senate last session, but killed by the House.

One of the concerns raised by House members was the lack of a regulatory scheme before a casino is approved.

The authority was created and worked for four months to develop the regulations, structure and requirements for casino gambling and also developed another bill to tighten state controls over charitable gambling which raises about $13 million a year for charities and non-profits.

The authority consisting of legislators, state department heads, law enforcement and attorneys voted 9-0 to approve the draft bill on charitable gaming, and 8-1 on a final report with Foster again the "No" vote.

After the Authority approved the proposed bills and its final report, House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, said after the authority vote that a bill with a more robust regulatory structure would have a better chance of passing.

Shurtleff, a former U.S. Marshal, voted against SB 152 last spring. On Friday he said he is keeping an open mind on the issue and if the right bill came along he could vote for it.The prime sponsor of SB 152, Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, has said he will introduce a similar bill in the 2014 session.

Casino supporters have renewed their push for expanded gambling in New Hampshire in light of Massachusetts' approval of three casinos and a video slot machine facility.

grayno@unionleader.com


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